EDITORIAL: End foreign gimmick tourism

Wed, Jan 03, 2018 - Page 8

That much of the nation’s tourism is going in the wrong direction was evidenced in the appearance of several giant robots from the Transformers movie franchise in the hot springs town of Jhihben (知本) in Taitung County.

After the robots became popular with visitors and parents were seen photographing their children with the models, the township decided to make them a permanent part of the landscape.

There are also plans for a Transformers-themed resort and shops that would sell licensed merchandise. The township is working on a plan that would require NT$15 million (US$506,278) from the central government.

The Transformers series topped Taiwan’s box offices in 2011 and 2014, easily beating Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (彩虹戰士:賽德克巴萊), which was wildly successful by Taiwanese standards.

From purely a business standpoint, placing giant robots as a tourist attraction might make sense. However, from a cultural point of view, this is simply continuing along the unsettling trend of building European-style castles and other gimmicks that have nothing to do with Taiwan.

Interestingly, poet and presidential adviser Wu Sheng (吳晟) on Saturday said that since the “nation’s subjective consciousness is not strong, it cannot resist the incursion of foreign cultures.”

“Taiwan used to be home to many lovely things, but politicians have ruined them with policies that were created to please people,” he added.

Wu might be referring to history and the larger scheme of things, but his words still ring true in this case.

The town understandably wants to boost its tourism, especially since hot springs are now easily accessible all around Taiwan.

However, it chose the laziest way — just grab some characters from a popular Hollywood movie that has nothing to do with the town or even the nation, or the general geographic region, for that matter.

The plan serves only domestic tourism — and within that, only the segment that likes to go to places just to take selfies and not do much else. It will not promote the local culture or encourage people to stay and explore the area, which in the long run will be much more valuable once the novelty of the Transformers wears off.

Taiwanese keep talking about promoting the nation to foreigners and increasing its international visibility, but this will do nothing to help attract foreign visitors, and even shuts out local tourists who are interested in delving into the local culture.

Even worse is the long-term plan to turn the town into a Transformers town instead of relying on local specialties. That taxpayers’ money could fund it is simply an insult to anyone who cares about preserving and promoting Taiwanese culture.

It is not sustainable, either. What will happen when the franchise’s popularity wanes?

If the hot springs are no longer able to give the town a competitive edge, there are other local elements to draw from. There is a strong Aboriginal presence in the area and in a time when interest in Aboriginal culture is growing, that could be a way to go that also ties into the land.

It seems that there are some missed opportunities that could have been explored before jumping into the Hollywood gimmick bandwagon.

This is not to say that Transformers is bad because it is foreign; the movies are actually entertaining, but there is a place for everything. The robots would make sense in urban areas, where everything is pretty much Westernized anyway, but for quaint rural towns, they are misguided atmosphere-destroyers.